Anam Fatima (Jury Choice)

I wrote this piece for children. It is dedicated to all the differently abled and to all the people associated with these beautiful human beings. It is dedicated to understanding them, loving them and appreciating them with all our heart and aouls. This piece takes its inspiration from my sister who was born with Down Syndrome.

“Chhoti”
Meet my little sister. She is not all that little, just a year younger to me. But Mommy says she is little. I don’t understand. There is my little brother too, profusely crying, always crying. There is no stopping to that.
But Mommy thinks he is not little.
I don’t understand.

At the movie yesterday, two aunties stared at Chhoti, so much so, I thought their eyes would pop out. Their staring put me off. I think it put Chhoti off too because she ducked her head in Mommy’s lap.

“What is the problem with her?” they asked in kind tones.

Mommy said something in a kinder tone about Chhoti being different. Mommy says the same thing to everybody. I’d get tired of it if I were to say the same thing so many times.

I can’t contain my curiosity. I want to ask Mommy and so I do.

“Mommy, why does everybody stare at Chhoti and not at Bhai and me? Can I tell them off sometime? I think Chhoti doesn’t like it.”

“Because she is different.”

There, AGAIN!

I DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING!

Mommy tied Chhoti to the cot today with her dupatta. Mommy confuses me. Chhoti is not a pet.

I decided to do something about it!

I tiptoed to Chhoti and declared myself her saviour. She looked at me with a vague expression and crawled away.

“Don’t crawl, Chhoti! You are not as little as Mommy thinks.”

But she doesn’t listen to me. Does she not understand either?

When Daddy returns, he asks for Chhoti. She is nowhere to be found.

PANDEMONIUM BREAKS LOOSE!

Daddy is shouting. Mommy is wailing. I am scared and drowned in guilt and self blame. Where is Chhoti?

And then, we find her, under the BED, sleeping.

“She could have run away,” Mommy scolds.

“But wouldn’t she know she’d get lost if she ran away. She is not that little Mommy.”

“She is. We must be careful with her. Do you understand?”

I nod. I don’t understand.

It’s a school night. Mommy tugs us in bed. She seems tired.
She gives us all a kiss. She gives Chhoti a longer kiss, I notice.
“Mommy, why doesn’t Chhoti go to school with me and Bhai?”
“She is little. She will go when she grows up.”
“Will she go with me?”
“She will go to a different school.”

“Why?”

“Because she is different.”

PHEW!

Sometimes I get extremely angry at Chhoti.
She doesn’t understand anything. Mommy is right. She is different.
She walks clumsy. She talks funny.
Why did she have to talk to my friends today? All she speaks is gibberish. Mixing up everything. Now they will all poke fun at me.
I will NEVER make her meet my friends.

Bhai is struggling at divisions. He just doesn’t get divisions.

Chhoti is mumbling something, least bothered.

Daddy is beetle browed, as always.

Chhoti threw cold water on Daddy’s pants. I think she did that to cool him down. It didn’t work.

We gasped!

And then we heard a screeching laugh. It was Chhoti.

We laughed and we laughed till our stomach hurt. Daddy laughed too

I think she understands somethings.

Mirley by Shylin Sam

You know Mirley? Oh, she’s so beautiful. I’m not saying that because I’m in love with her. She is actually really pretty. Actually is a filler word. Avoid it. Really is worse. You need to have better adjectives. And adverbs.
There’s Mirley now, oh look at her, her large eyes, expansive forehead, curly brown hair, those perfectly round breasts, petite waist, long legs. This girl should be in movies. Why isn’t she? Her father is tyrant. Won’t allow her to wear makeup or even long hanging earring. She can only be seen in a salwar. I’ve heard she even has Television restrictions. Like Hello? What century is he living in? I listen to her whistle film song tunes in the college corridor sometimes. Her father can’t hear her here. I’ve seen her wear a saree once. Just once. Her father would have killed her if he had seen her that day. How glorious she was. And how happy. I wish she could do whatever she wanted.
Beautiful Beautiful Mirley.
Some days she smiles at me. She knows my name only because I’m her senior in college. I’ve talked to her. Said some stupid nonsensical shit. Rambled on about how I was planning to settle in Canada. Had I stammered? I’m such a wreck in front of her. But despite all that, a mutual friend told me that Mirley thought I was cool. They must have been mocking me. Cause lets face it, I’m not cool. I’m very very average. Don’t ever use very twice. Don’t even use it once. Vocabulary needs improvement.
She’s gotten up from the bench, is she looking at me? No, I’m just imagining it. She’s probably eyeing the tall hunk who is busy sending shuttlecocks flying into the sky flexing his muscular arms. I hate him so much I’m whispering death curses under my breath. I wish I knew black magic. I wish black magic were real. Wait, is she looking at me? She’s smiling. Should I smile back? Act natural. She’s walking to the side of the court and to where I’m standing. Our hostel is right behind me, maybe she’s going to her room. There’s no way in hell she could be walking to me. Right? Oh, how I’d love to be wrong.
Mystical Magical Mesmerising Mirley. Her hips swayed, her hair tussled madly in the wild monsoon air. Oh girl, you drive me mad. Her eyes, they hold me captive, my heart flutters like a bird trapped in a cold metal cage. Touch me once and I think I’ll die.
She’s close. Maybe I should pretend I don’t see her. Wait, she’s wearing the bracelet. Am I seeing things?
What bracelet you’re wondering? When I couldn’t keep it in me any longer, I sent her an anonymous package with the words ‘you mean the world to me’ written on a plain white card and a cheap silver bracelet pinned to it. I didn’t think she’d wear it. She did. But wait, she doesn’t know who sent it. It could be anyone. So, this doesn’t mean much except that she has a taste for tacky jewellery.
She’s here. She’s here. She’s looking straight at me. I can’t look back into those eyes. I’ll keep staring right ahead.
“Hey. Nice game, huh?” she has the sweetest voice.
“Yes, good game” I had no clue what was going on on the court. Was the hunk winning or just showing off with his occasional grunts and puffs?
“I want Rohith to win” she said. I smiled while in my head I was hacking Rohith with a machete, “You like him?” What a stupid question to ask. You’re looking desperate.
“He’s a good player” she shrugged.
Long Pause.
Say something.
“That’s a nice bracelet”
She smiled from ear to ear, “Oh, this. This is a gift from an admirer”
“I’m sure you have plenty of those” Stop with the compliments already. You’re embarrassing her. But she wasn’t embarrassed. She just shrugged again and looked back at the players on the court, “Well” She turned her gaze back to me, “I’m sure you do too”
“Me” I blushed, “No. Not at all”
“You are beautiful” she said looking straight into my eyes. I’m not beautiful. Very very average. This time, the extra very is justified. No one has ever called me that. Am I being played? I can’t look into her eyes anymore. Now I’m staring at her beige sandals. She was just standing there looking at me.
“You looked amazing in that blue saree the other day” she says and I finally gather up the courage to look back, “Thanks” I mutter. She noticed?
She nods and stands there some more. We stand awkwardly for what seems like eternity. Although I’d be okay if this were eternity. I pretend to pay attention to the game.
“Well I should get going then” she says. I give her a quick nod and return to the game. I feel her walk past me and into the girl’s hostel. She’s gone. Her scent of Jasmine floured coconut oil has vanished without a trace. I know I’ll never say a thing. What do you expect me to say? I love you, lets run away? And live forever in fear? You deserve better, Mirley. You deserve to live in a world that doesn’t hate you.
I can feel my heart sink from remorse and cowardice. Good words, Jia, at least you’ll pass the IELTS.

The Blue Scooter by Kimngaihoi Vaiphei (Jury Choice)

3 Years old. Squished between the scent of cigarettes with deo and Nivea cream and the scent of cocoa butter lotion and home.
Somehow Mom always smelled of home.
She rode between them on the scooter clinging on to Daddy’s waist.

The scooter was blue.
The kind of blue that she crayon-ed the water in kindergarten.
But not quite, for it always seemed to be mixed with rust.
They always joked that she had to refer to the scooter with respect as it was a more senior member of the family than she.
The blue scooter was always there.
No matter where they got posted.
Who could leave a family member behind?

5 Years old.
A detachable seat, attached on the front -meant just for her, not her brothers or Mom. Just her.
She watched the dials go to and fro and the neon light blink, every time they took a turn.
Wind on her face, as the headlights cut through the air, defeating it.
She was so proud of owning a seat of her own, from where the view was perfect.

8 Years old.
Daddy threw the seat away.
Said she was too tall now and could ride like a grown-up; like Mom at the back.
The heart-break at the thought of not owning a spot, and having to grow up.

12 Years old.
Today, she won’t take the school van home because Daddy is coming to pick her up.
Red Light. He stops next to the school van.
She turns the other way and hides her face.
Her friends call out to her, she ignores, hoping they’d think they have been mistaken.
For who would want to be seen in a rusted, old, blue scooter in a city where her friend’s dads’ drove SUVs and sedans.
Not like they didn’t own a car.
She was mad at her dad and the scooter, why didn’t he just sell it off?

20 Years old.
She longs for the smell of sweat on the scooter’s leather seat, mixed with the smell of cigarettes and deo.
Riding on it and not hearing a word he said, thanks to the”purr” of the scooter.
Having to get down and tilt the scooter, every time it refuses to start
The touch of the windcheater jacket as she hugged on and leaned her head on his back, for she was safe to dream here.
Been four years now,
No sign of the blue scooter or its rider.
Mom still smells the same.
But not of home anymore.
For somewhere along the way, “home” lost its definition.

 

Harshita Ashwani (Voters Choice)

“Dear Guy Best friend,

It has been a long time since we’ve known each other. We’ve created immense memories some dark and some bright. I still can’t figure out how we came so close to each other that we share every minute detail about our lives. We were each others’ strength as well as weaknesses; we could neither live apart from each other nor could we say each other solely ours. I being a writer and you a ridiculous reader but still you began to read all that I wrote whether short one-liners or a page long letter. You often corrected me and made fun of me whenever I wrote something romantic.
But I was your one-sided lover and your secret admirer who wrote several hidden letters to you during summer holidays. I still remember the day I saw you for the first time, that day, my life turned upside down. I fell for you that very moment. You were the first person for whom I felt so. Yes, that is what we call “LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT” but consequently when we became friends from strangers my hopes glistened. Our bond became stronger and stronger with each passing day. Long conversations, midnight calls and full day texting. My feelings grew deeper and deeper and one fine day I confessed my love for you, and for the very best of it, you did the same. Your words “I was waiting for this day to come, but you took a long time. Hey! I love you too”. That day I was on the “7th Sky”. But who knew that all what you said was mere lie, and in just two days we broke up, for all you said you can’t keep up with me. It was easy for you to say those words and then back off, but for me it was a hammer on my soul. My heart shattered into pieces, and those pieces still wait to be assembled again by your love. Though I know it is impossible but the hope never dies. Even after this, I agreed to accept you as my best friend.

Yes! A friend with whom you’ll talk whole night, argue and dominate her life. But still with a tag of “FRIEND” and I being a fool agreed to all your tantrums because I had fallen for you and for me it was impossible to move out of it. I was in marshy area of love from which my resistance was mere failure. I was just moving deep and deep and I reached the final point of drowning in your love.

Slowly and gradually, for you I became a past-time who has to be present for your recreation whenever you wish. You often took me for granted. My life turned into dark nights which were filled with your talks about your new girlfriend and I just smiled with tears rolling down my face. My pain was well expressed in my words but my face still held that fake smile, which was enough to fool the world and even you. You were the one who could know my mood just by my text and voice, but now even my face couldn’t reveal the truth to you. It seems though we are together yet apart.

I am still the same but you’ve changed a lot. The way you talk to me now confuses me with your love for me or your drama. Your words are sometimes extremely sweet and sometimes venomous enough to kill me. You had a great contribution in turning the tables of my life.
My dear best friend, I would like to tell you, you may have changed but knowingly or unknowingly you’ve murdered my inner soul. You’ve made me hate the purest relation on earth the relation of love. You’ve stabbed me hundreds of time by your texts and changed behavior. I’m still in your life but I’ll love to appreciate you.
Thanks for turning me into a dead soul alive.

Yours
So called HALF GIRLFRIEND.

Love – Long or Lost by Reema Tripathy (Voters Choice)

The sun’s rays tore through the clouds and filled the city with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. I watched the grand spectacle from my balcony, but alas there was very little that the sun could do to soothe my fraying nerves. It had never been like this; I, a go getter had defied all odds and married Arul this same day ten years ago. The tenth anniversary should call for huge celebration, but today I felt despondent and gloomy.

The newspaper boy flung the daily onto the balcony. The black and white sheets had a dash of colour here and there, so unlike my life where there was no hope, no promise. The silver trinkets that I had collected over the years and the Kashmiri stole in the wardrobe vied for my attention. I was not keen. The stole anyway is a Pashmina look alike; the original promised by Arul is long overdue. Moreover, the rigmarole of mindless presentations at office and heated arguments at home had completely dented my self worth. I just picked up the essentials and darted towards office.

‘My bus number 4379 reaches Delhi at 20: 30 hours. Please send the driver, regards Arul.’ This was how our communication lines had become of late-curt and formal. We started falling out of love within the first two years of marriage. Career issues, familial expectations and space considerations had started taking a toll on our relationship. Our standoff over the birth of a child; I desperately wanting one while he being ambivalent hammered the final nail. Maybe it was time we contemplated divorce.

It was six in the evening. The phone beeped.’ Bus number 4379 slips into the valley en-route, all passengers feared dead.’; said the news feed. I froze, it was the same bus in which Arul was travelling. I repeatedly tried dialling the helpline number, which was perpetually busy. I reached home, in a state of utter confusion. I had just opened the main entrance door when I was enveloped in a tight embrace. It was very familiar, very reassuring. Tears of relief streamed down my cheeks as if floodgates of years of pent up emotions had suddenly opened up. Arul had decided to give our marriage one last chance. He had gone to Pahalgam to buy me an original pashmina shawl and not for any office outing. He then rushed home by the earliest available bus instead of waiting for the ill fated bus. I was ashamed. His love was so unconditional, mine contingent on the fear of loss. He believed in preservation, me in destruction. I felt so tiny. I was wondering as to how perfect he was till he asked:

‘May I ask you for one gift, dear’, he whispered. Can I have the privilege of becoming a father?

The Man Who Stole Rain by Ardhendu Biswas (Voters Choice)

It started raining after twelve years in the land of Vivekpur. Thirsty earth got life. People were celebrating the rain. Everyone was happy and thankful to God. All the villagers were busy in collecting the rain into buckets,jars, bottles,bowels,on the roofs and most of them locked the rain-water into the vaults and lockers .
A thief was in worry. He had a son of seven years. The thief lost his wife in the famine caused due to the scarcity of water. How could he store rain? He had not any bucket, jar or land to dig up for reserving rain. He thought,” If it doesn’t rain for another twelve years! Every living being including his only son shall die of heat and thirst.” He made up his mind. He would steal rain to secure his son’s future.
It was about midnight. An old teacher was dreaming that his jars and buckets full of rain were being robbed and he was chasing, chasing and chasing the robbers and reached a land where everything was flaming!
Hearing a bang on the gate he jumped of the bed and ran criying,” Who? Who is running with the jars of rain? Thief! Thief! Rain- thief! Catch! Catch! Catch ! Is there none to stop the rain stealer ? Oh ! I have fallen. My rib has broken! O God! The thief has taken my jars of rain.”
In the morning the old teacher complained to the Vivekpur Police station of the rain- theft.The Sub-inspector wouldn’t have been so much shocked if he heard his old wife’s death than listening about the stealing of the rain from the old teacher’s bungalow. He was ignoring the complaint at first. But he could not help arresting the thief because he had a good link to complain to the higher authority against the sub- inspector.
There was none to help the thief in getting bail from the court. So he was produced to the court next day. The lady judge asked the thief what led him to steal rain from the old teacher’s house. The thief had not any defender. So he said,” I stole rain for the future of my only son. If it doesn’t rain another twelve years my son will perish and how can I see him dying before my eyes?” The teacher’s defender objected,” No,No, My Lady ! He is misleading the court by making an emotional story. He is actually an experienced thief and has an international link with the water- mafia. He wanted to sell rain water in the secret market and earn foreign money . He is a hardened criminal and should be hanged to death. ” The thief again said that he had stolen rain only to secure his son’s future. His wife died of thirst as it had not rained for years and all the sources of water were dry and he could not buy water for her. His son had none to look after on earth. How could he endanger his son’s life? The Judge was moved by the thought of the thief. She was thinking that the man was a thief by fortune but a philosopher at heart. She had not dealt with this type of case in her seventy years of life. She herself was ashamed of the fact that she also didn’t care for the future of her next generation as the thief had been. A great respect was created in her mind for the thief. But being a judge, she could not show her emotion in the court. She thought that the thief had committed a noble crime and his punishment should be a noble one. So the thief was sentenced for ten years of open imprisonment and was given ten acres of land where he would plant and take care of ten thousand trees which would help in bringing rain in the land of Vivekpur. As his son was a minor one and motherless, he was sent to the government home until his father was released.
For ten years the thief planted trees and brought them up with much care and love as though his own sons. His son was also growing up in the government home. The thief and his son could spend an hour only in the Sundays. But heavy labour broke his health. The thief worked day and night without any rest. Planting trees had become a madness in him. One day he fell ill. He was asked to take rest but when everyone was in sleep, he went into the land and worked and talked with the trees till the dawn. He planted ten thousands saplings and brought them up into handsome trees. He spent his sentence of ten years in strict discipline and dedication.
It was the day of release of his father. The son was very happy. But he was informed that his father was in a critical condition. He was taken to his father in the early morning. The thief was very happy to see his son. He was in death bed. The thief took his son’s hand and said, ” Son , I am going to your mother. Be a man of yourself.” The son was crying and said,” Father, don’t leave me alone. With whom will I live? The thief said,” Don’t worry my son, you have ten thousands trees to live and love with. They will take care of you, my son.” And the thief closed his eyes.

A Decaying Feast by Sonnakshi Srivastava (Voters Choice)

When the stench became unbearable, she took the liberty to flip over to his end. A bigger, softer and better side. A side to breathe and think. For once.
The stench seemed to pierce through her fabric. It had grown on her, and she with it.
Her olfactory sense was no recent victim to an assault of this kind, and with every breath she took, she became dimly aware of her circumstances that were more or less beyond her control.
The stench had been an inevitable part of her life – her Nani and Mamma’s bedrooms smelling worse in superlative degree.
As she felt her body getting sucked into the bed with venomous intensity, she couldn’t help think of the only other space where her Mamma and Nani were confined to performing privately.
‘We all boil at different temperatures,’ Mamma would tell her while preparing her father’s evening tea. She would watch the leaves infuse, trying to match it with the passion of her life trying to seep out. She could never tell if she was past her boiling point.
All those long hours in the kitchen with Mamma and Nani, watching them obliterate all traces of their ambitions to feed the bigger aspirations of their better halves, the husbands had surely found the right palms to grease.
Sugar. Spice. Woman. 5 letters. Delicious congruency.
‘Remember to never forget – that cruelty and benevolence are but the shades of the same colour.’ She would down Nani’s advice along the turmeric milk; her Nani’s strategy to immunize her against domestic vexations.
‘Remember to never forget.’ She never forgot – believing that her relationship would move past all the hiccups, priding that her hatred lasted no older than a heartbeat. But it was never easy- even if she were happy and sweetened his tea beyond measure, a pinch of salt was all that it took to restore lucidity.
The kitchen became a relic of marital discord, her Mamma and Nani its monument of utmost patience and virtue. All those injured rose-tinted memories preserved by tides of honey and dashes of lemon haunted her.
That nugget of wisdom, the morsels of logic that they had passed on to her as recipes -the key to a man’s heart, but with a hint of chequered history, look how they now melt her corrupt eyes.
Unlike a carefree fish swimming unbeknownst in capricious waters, she now seemed to understand why her Mamma cried her eyes out while deveining the shrimps, why she couldn’t distinguish the blood red from the chilli red, why on certain occasions the curry tasted unusually spicy, and why, after a certain time, Nani’s eyes wouldn’t smart upon peeling onions, or shed a few tears upon receiving bruises from a knife.
It was all coming back in ludicrous amounts, to undo the defence, to unstitch the wounds, to invoke the wrath – the smell of his favourite dish, roasted aspirations, the sweaty stews, the battered skeleton, the whipped heart, the sleazy salads, the blood, bones and butter. A protracted revenge of generations rendered right.
The domestic goddess was certain of many a things -that the way to a man’s stomach is through his heart, and from the heart to the heart of the matter.
However, what she still couldn’t decipher was the overpowering ingredient of that unbearable reek – the stench of the living dead, or of a staling violence.